Size, speed and a switch of positions led former Jet Rich Caster to become a three-time Pro Bowl TE
If Joe Namath hadn't already famously guaranteed the Jets would win Super Bowl III a couple years earlier, he may have been tempted to make another attention-grabbing pledge after catching a glimpse of rookie wide receiver Rich Caster.
Selected in the second round of the 1970 NFL Draft out of Jackson State, the 6-5, 228-pound Caster had the size to become a promising target for the veteran quarterback.
"I didn't think I'd get drafted, but scouts were showing interest. When I got drafted, it was a dream come true, playing with the best quarterback in the game at that time," Caster said. "Being from (Mobile) Alabama, I was a big Joe Namath fan all along. Even before he won that Super Bowl. So, there was kind of a home connection there a little bit through Joe. Not that I knew him, but the idea that he was a homeboy."
Caster not only had the size, he had 4.5 in the 40 speed, too. And after hauling in 45 passes with nine touchdowns during his first two seasons, Jets coach Weeb Ewbank chose to take advantage of Caster's combination of size and speed by moving him to tight end in 1972.
"I think it had to do with defenses and the way they were trying to defend us," Caster said. "Early on, through the '60s and right on to the early '70s, I've got to believe the general approach from most teams defensively was to try to cover the tight end with a linebacker. And I could outrun most linebackers or any linebacker that I ever ran into, really.
"But it was pretty much not a secret. 'OK, let's see how this matches up, if it holds up.' It didn't hold up. I ran away from most of the people that I had a chance to get away from. It was all around getting a good matchup."
A "good matchup" may have been one way to put it. However, with Caster's speed and willingness to go anywhere on the field, a great matchup would have worked better. He hauled in a career-high 10 touchdowns during his first season at the new position and earned the first of three trips to the Pro Bowl.
"I had three touchdowns in one game that year, as well. And Joe was on the end of all of those," Caster said, referring to the September 24 Jets victory in Baltimore when he caught six passes for 204 yards, including the TD passes of 79, 80 and 10 yards. "In the years that Joe was healthy and able to play seemed to work out for me because those years were years that I made the Pro Bowls."
After eight seasons with the Jets – totaling 245 receptions for 4,434 yards, an 18.1 average, and 36 touchdowns – Caster played five more seasons with the then-Houston Oilers, New Orleans Saints and Washington Redskins. He finished his 13-year NFL career with 322 catches for a 17.1 average and 45 touchdowns.
"I'm most proud of being able to play as long as I did, getting 13 years in the league during a period where the career average was a heck of a lot less than 13. When I came in I think it was somewhere around two, two and a half years," Caster said. "I was real proud of my ability to still have some talent where I was able to be traded and signed late in my career to bring some value to some teams."
Now making his home on Long Island with his wife, Susan, Caster is enjoying retirement by frequenting the gym and playing golf. And as the parents of three sons and grandparents of two, they also definitely make time to enjoy their family, as well.
In addition, Caster makes time to help others as a volunteer for the March of Dimes, and by sitting on the board of the Joe Namath Foundation, which awards grants to organizations that meet the criteria for children's charities and neurological research.
He also sits on the board of the Head Injury Association of Long Island. The not-for-profit organization's mission is to maximize traumatic brain injury survivors' potential.